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Renaissance Under Fire: Tibet’s Own Beat Generation

avatarBy Tendor
Thursday, May 6, 2010
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It is an evil twist of fate that many Tibetan intellectuals and writers get their due recognition only after they’re dead or arrested. Gedun Choephel. Dhondup Gyal. Dolma Kyab. Shokjang. Gangnyi. And now, the latest victim of China’s wrath, Shogdung (real name: Tagyal) – a leading intellectual recently detained by Chinese authorities.

Reading about Shogdung’s numerous essays and books further confirmed my long-held opinion that what we have been witnessing is a Tibetan renaissance that is 1000 years overdue. It might take us another century to recognize this too, but future generations will look back on this decade and call it the Tibetan renaissance.

Yes, it’s a thousand years overdue but it’s finally here. Tibetan Renaissance has begun. Every day a new book, a new poem, a new essay, or a new pamphlet. Every week a new music album, a new painting, a new thangka, a new exhibition. Every month a new film, a new idea, a new movement, a new school of thought. Writers, poets, musicians, artists, filmmakers are changing the landscape of Tibetan arts and literature. For a culture that has craved isolation and remained static over most of the last millennium, this is a revolution. This is the long overdue Tibetan Renaissance.

Shogdung’s book, “གནམ་ས་གོ་འབྱེད་” (Distinguishing Sky from Earth), is one of the hundreds of books and essays written about the Tibetan uprising of 2008. བདེ་སྐྱིད་ནི་རང་དབང་གི་འབྲས་བུ་ཡིན་ལ། རང་དབང་ནི་དཔའ་སྤོབས་ཀྱི་འབྲས་ བུ་ཡིན་ནོ།། Shogdung quotes a Greek scholar at the beginning of the book: “Happiness is the result of freedom; freedom is the result of courage.” The quote sums up Shogdung’s renunciation of fear, which was a step necessary to take before writing anything honest or meaningful.

In a way, the fearlessness that marked the political reawakening of the Tibetan people has contributed to the boldness and brilliance with which the new Tibetan art is bursting into the world. The political movement is feeding the arts, and the arts are feeding the movement right back.

Young Tibetan painters like Gade, Gongkar, Rigdol, and Pekar are dancing on the canvas of modernity with brushstrokes that invoke as well as challenge tradition. Musicians like Yadong and Kunga and Sherten and JJI have electrified the Tibetan masses with lyrics that resonate in our hearts, from the Tibetan grasslands and nightclubs through the exile landscape. Writers like Shogdung, Shogjang, Gangnyi, Tsundue, Bhuchung, Tsering Wangmo, Drugmo, Mountain Phoenix, and of course Woeser, are finally putting into words the unfathomable pain, the occasional joy, and the constant yearning that mark our oppressed or exiled life.

This is the incredible power of Tibetan renaissance. We don’t have the hard power of guns and tanks, but we have the soft power of culture and creativity. Chinese authorities can put on the most expensive expo ever in Shanghai, but they cannot create a cultural renaissance in China. The fact that this Tibetan renaissance is taking place at a time of extreme repression in Tibet makes it all the more significant and powerful.

Let’s continue this renaissance. Let’s read more, write more, paint more, travel more, dream more, love more. Khampa youths shall get on the bus and travel to all corners of Tibet, stopping in Lhasa for breakfast, Gyangtse for dinner. Utsangwas shall go to the farthest reaches of Amdo till you hit the bumper of Mongolia – look, Tso Ngonpo is waiting for you. Let’s see our beautiful country, let’s start our own beat generation.

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